Evidence of meeting #26 for International Trade in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was agriculture.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Marvin Hildebrand  Director General, Trade Negotiations Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Barbara Martin  Director General, Middle East and Maghreb Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
  • Pierre Bouchard  Director, Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development
  • Denis Landreville  Lead Negotiator, Regional Agreements, Trade Negotiations Division, Trade Agreements and Negotiations Directorate, Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • Kathleen Sullivan  Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance
  • Andrew Casey  Vice-President, Public Affairs and International Trade, Forest Products Association of Canada
  • Bob Kirke  Executive Director, Canadian Apparel Federation
  • Zaineb Kubba  Business Development Manager, Canada-Arab Business Council
  • Richard Phillips  Executive Director, Grain Growers of Canada; President, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

I will call the meeting to order.

We are about embark on the free trade agreement between Canada and Jordan. This is Bill C-23. It has cleared the House and we'll be seized with this, as we move, until we complete it as a committee.

Just before we get into that, though, there are a couple of little things.

First of all, at our last meeting we talked about a reception with the business delegation from India. That will take place. This is good news: it will not be paid for by the committee. There will be a reception on the evening of Wednesday the 14th after votes, at six o'clock at the convention centre. There will be notification going out for all the committee members to meet the delegation there. That will work out very well.

The other thing is that we need to pass a budget for this Bill C-23 piece of legislation we're embarking on. So I'd entertain a motion very quickly to clear that out of the way.

Mr. Holder moves it.

(Motion agreed to) [See Minutes of Proceedings]

Look at that. Who says committees don't get along?

We have with us today, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Marvin Hildebrand, director general, trade negotiation bureau.

I believe, Mr. Hildebrand, you are going to be presenting. You may want to introduce the people you have with you from the department. We are excited about this piece of legislation, and in the previous government it got to third reading. This time our goal is to get it much further than that, and into implementation. With that, the floor is yours. You may proceed.

11 a.m.

Marvin Hildebrand Director General, Trade Negotiations Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to the committee about the Canada–Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act, which implements the Canada-Jordan free trade agreement and the related agreements on the environment and labour cooperation.

As you may know, I was Canada's chief negotiator for these negotiations, and today I'll highlight briefly Canada's trade negotiations agenda more generally. We'll note some key benefits of the Canada-Jordan FTA, as well as discuss generally Canada's relationship with Jordan.

Mr. Chairman, permit me at the beginning of my remarks to introduce my colleagues joining me at the table here today. To my left is Ton Zuijdwijk, general counsel with Foreign Affairs and International Trade. To my right is Pierre Bouchard, director of bilateral and regional labour affairs, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Also joining me is Denis Landreville, lead negotiator, trade negotiations division, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. To my far right is Barbara Martin, director general, Middle East and Maghreb bureau at Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

Following my remarks, we will be available to respond to your questions.

First of all, let's talk about the government's pro-trade plan.

Consistent with government priorities as set out in the Speech from the Throne and the Global Commerce Strategy, the government is pursuing a robust pro-trade plan, which is an essential contributor to Canada's future prosperity, productivity and growth.

A key component of the government's strategy is the ambitious pursuit of regional and bilateral free trade agreements.

As highlighted in both the Speech from the Throne as well as Budget 2011, free trade agreements open doors for Canadian businesses by providing improved market access and other preferences to an increasing number of foreign markets, which in turn helps to make Canada stronger in an increasingly competitive global economy.

To this end, we are conducting free trade negotiations with two major global economic powers, the European Union and India. Trade negotiations are also already underway with a number of smaller partners, including Ukraine, Morocco and the Caribbean Community, CARICOM.

Canada is also exploring opportunities to deepen trade and economic cooperation with other major economic partners, including Japan, China, the nine-member Trans-Pacific Partnership and MERCOSUR—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

To date, Canada has implemented free trade agreements with 11 countries, including with our North American Free Trade Agreement partners, Mexico and the United States; Israel; Chile; Costa Rica; Peru; Columbia; and the member states of the European Free Trade Association—Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

In August 2011, Canada concluded a free trade agreement with Honduras, which is currently ongoing detailed legal review. Implementing legislation for our Agreement with Panama was tabled in Parliament in mid-November 2011, at the same time as Bill C-23.

Regarding the Canada–Jordan free trade agreement, in particular, we still face a measure of global economic uncertainty, Mr. Chairman. In a growing number of countries, Canadian companies are at a competitive disadvantage because their foreign competitors have preferential market access under some form of free trade agreement. The Canada–Jordan free trade agreement addresses these concerns by levelling the playing field with key competitors in the Jordanian market, namely those from the United States and the European Union.

Over the years, Canada and Jordan have built a strong, mutually beneficial relationship. Despite a small decline in our bilateral trade with Jordan in 2009 with the impact of the global economic slowdown, Canada's 2011 merchandise exports of $70 million were more than double the $31 million total in 2003. This free trade agreement provides an opportunity to further enhance this growing relationship.

Jordan's current average applied tariff is 10%, with peaks up to 30% on some products of Canadian export interest, such as certain forest products and articles of machinery. Upon implementation, this agreement will eliminate Jordanian tariffs on the vast majority of current Canadian exports to Jordan, with remaining tariffs phased out over three to five years. There are only a small number of exclusions in the areas of tobacco, alcohol, and some poultry products.

This agreement provides Canadian companies with benefits in a variety of sectors, including agriculture and agrifood, with products such as pulses, frozen potato products, beef, animal feeds, and various prepared foods. Forest products such as paper and wood building products, industrial and electrical machinery, construction equipment, and vehicles and parts are also included.

The Canada–Jordan free trade agreement's focus is primarily goods market access. The context is that our services interests via-à-vis Jordan are being adequately addressed in the World Trade Organization. Canada's investment-related interests are addressed in the Canada–Jordan foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, which was signed at the same time as the free trade agreement and implemented in December 2009.

As Canada's first-ever free trade agreement with an Arab country, the Canada–Jordan free trade agreement will not only help improve market access to Jordan's growing market, but will also provide a platform for expanding commercial ties and raising Canada's profile in the broader Middle East. This FTA will also benefit Jordan, ensuring access to Canadian products at more competitive rates and increasing access to the Canadian market for Jordanian goods.

In fact, Mr. Chair, upon the coming into force of this agreement, Canada will eliminate all tariffs on Jordanian exports to Canada, with the exception of over-quota supply-managed dairy, poultry, and eggs, which are excluded from tariff reduction.

The Canada–Jordan FTA is not about goods market access alone, however. The agreement also contains principle-based chapters on the environment and on labour cooperation, and high-quality side agreements with strong binding obligations, which were negotiated in parallel with the free trade agreement.

The Canada–Jordan FTA is a concrete demonstration of Canada's commitment to enhancing regional peace and security by helping to improve economic conditions in the region.

This agreement also shows Canada's support for Jordan as a moderate Arab state that promotes peace and security in the Middle East, as well as Canada's support for the commitment of His Majesty King Abdullah II and his government to implement comprehensive political and economic reforms in Jordan. Such reforms include measures to enhance accountability and political participation, as well as economic measures to liberalize the Jordanian market and provide support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Regarding the next steps, Jordan has already notified Canada that it has completed all of its internal steps to allow the agreements to come into force. Should Parliament elect to pass this implementing legislation, officials will then work with their Jordanian counterparts to bring the Free Trade Agreement and the related Agreements on the Environment and Labour Cooperation into force on a neutrally agreed-to date as soon as possible.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my presentation. We would be happy to respond to questions the committee may have on the Canada–Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act.

Thank you.

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

Thank you very much.

We'll now move to question and answer.

Mr. Masse, you are first.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for your testimony here today.

I'll pick up where you left off. Can you outline in detail the political changes and reforms that have taken place since 2009, when we inked the deal? You just mentioned the King of Jordan. We're not dealing with a democracy here, and there have been a lot of changes in the Middle East since we actually inked this deal.

11:10 a.m.

Director General, Trade Negotiations Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Marvin Hildebrand

If I may, Mr. Chairman, I'll defer to my colleague from the department, Barbara Martin, to address that question.

11:10 a.m.

Barbara Martin Director General, Middle East and Maghreb Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Thank you for that question. It is indeed an important one in the context of this consideration of the FTA.

King Abdullah indeed represents a monarchy. A prime minister was appointed in October. The government has been undertaking a number of reforms in order to open, in particular, the trade regime of the country, and also to try to improve the social and human rights environment within the country.

There are also constitutional reforms, which we consider to represent very significant progress in that particular country.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

What exactly are those constitutional reforms, and how are they enforced for the population of Jordan?

11:10 a.m.

Director General, Middle East and Maghreb Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Barbara Martin

I don't have that specific information with me, but I can provide it to you later.

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

That would be helpful. I would like explicit detail about those reforms. If there is testimony being provided that there have been reforms, I would like itemized information on that for the committee, please, at some point in time.

Could you also provide information on the labour reforms that have taken place since 2009, when we signed this agreement?

Also, what do we know about migrant workers in Jordan? Do we know where they come from and how many there are?

11:10 a.m.

Director General, Trade Negotiations Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Marvin Hildebrand

Mr. Chairman, I'll defer to my colleague, Mr. Bouchard, from the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development, if I may.

11:10 a.m.

Pierre Bouchard Director, Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Thank you for your questions.

About two-thirds of the labour force in Jordan comes from migrant workers. About 70% come from Egypt, and they work mainly in the construction sector and in agriculture. They also come from South Asia, basically. You have Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan. Those workers, often women, are concentrated in the textile sector. You have about 40,000 to 50,000 workers in the textile sector right now in Jordan.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Brian Masse Windsor West, ON

With the agreement and in the time since we signed this agreement, have their labour rights improved, and if so, how have they, specifically?

There are many details about the exploitation of migrant workers, especially women, in Jordan. If two-thirds of their workforce is from that, do they enjoy the same labour rights as other Jordanians do? What specifically has been addressed since we signed this deal to improve their rights?

I'll just leave it there for now. I would like explicit details on this, because we did sign a deal three years ago. I would like to see the measurement of Jordanian labour force improvements that have taken place, similar to the democratic reforms since that time.

The argument has been that if we do this, those things will improve. So I want to see the measurement of those things over the last number of years, since we signed the deal.

11:15 a.m.

Director General, Trade Negotiations Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

Marvin Hildebrand

Mr. Chairman, I'll just give a preliminary answer to that, and then again I will refer to Mr. Bouchard.

The agreement was signed at the end of June 2009, as you alluded to. The agreement is not yet in force. We anticipate that it may come into force fairly soon, as I mentioned in my remarks. The Jordanian side is ready to go, in terms of their domestic ratification procedures.

On the details of the labour side agreement and the other two agreements, Mr. Bouchard may want to elaborate a little bit on those.

On Canada’s having recourse and having the mechanisms in force and being able to deploy the options those will present upon implementation, those are not at our disposal at this time. So in terms of what Canada has done since 2009.... Once the agreement is in force, if it does come into force, those options will then become available to us.

Perhaps you want to elaborate a bit more about what those are, and anything else in response to the question.

Is that okay, Mr. Chair?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Merrifield

It's fine.

11:15 a.m.

Director, Bilateral and Regional Labour Affairs, Department of Human Resources and Skills Development

Pierre Bouchard

To elaborate on those options and what the legal obligations are, it's important to underline that our agreement with Jordan is the first agreement where Jordan makes specific commitments concerning the labour rights of migrant workers.

If you look at their labour obligations and how they could be taken to task regarding the labour rights of migrant workers, you have International Labour Organization conventions, you have their agreement with the U.S., and their agreements with us. The agreement with the U.S. in 2000 was considered a breakthrough at the time, but it does not mention anything related to migrant workers. It does not mention anything related to discrimination that could apply to migrant workers. Therefore, legally, the U.S. would not be able to do anything about this. In our agreement now, we have very strong clauses on non-discrimination and the rights of migrant workers. It could be a very effective tool.

To answer your specific question about the measures taken, Jordan has taken a number of measures in the labour area over the past few years. One issue raised in the past was the right of migrant workers to join unions. There has been a cabinet decision on this, and it's now part of the law in Jordan. Migrant workers, just as their Jordanian counterparts, can join unions.